Lee Bontecou - Two untitled sculptures in Los Angeles Mega-Gallery - Image via hyperallergiccom New untitled wire and welded steel sculpture on canvas art in an New York exhibition, use the terms

Lee Bontecou

United States 1931

Sculpture, Painting, Printmaking

Lee Bontecou
Lee Bontecou
United States
February 13, 2017
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Lee Bontecou is an American artist best known for her abstract wall works that feature reliefs, hanging sculptures and miniatures. These large-scale, dark-toned pieces usually contain ominous, organic voids at their centers and are made from patching together accumulations of shaped canvases, leather, porcelain curios, wire mesh, conveyer belts and muslin recall nests. When completed, they appear as unnatural mixtures of machines, ancient architecture and the human body. By working in that fashion, Bontecou aims to, as she explained herself, capture as much of life as possible—no barriers—no boundaries—all freedom in every sense[1]. It should also be noted that Lee creates mystical drawings that allow her to further her investigation of natural and man-made forms.

Lee Bontecou - Untitled, 1961, Whitney Museum of American Canvas Art - Image via New York Museum
Lee Bontecou – Untitled, 1961, on view in Whitney Museum of American Art – Image via whitney.org

The Magic of Lee’s Sculptures

Lee Bontecou attended the prestigious Bradford Junior College (now known just as the Bradford College) in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and the Art Students League of New York from 1952 to 1955, where she spent a lot of time studying with the sculptor William Zorach. She learned to weld at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture in Maine where Lee stayed for the entire summer of 1954. In her early artistic expressions, the horrors of the World War II played a major part. Both of Bontecou’s parents joined the war effort, so Lee spent a lot of time at her grandmother in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, thinking about the fate of her mother and father. Here, she developed a love of the natural world that remained a big part of her creative expression to this day. Bontecou is best known for the sculptures she created in the 1960s, pieces which challenged artistic conventions of both materials and presentation, offering a unique compromise between sculpted and pictorial artwork.[2] A major occurrence that truly directed her career as an artist was her discovery of the way in which a torch for welding could produce an easily-controlled spray of the black soot that became a signature material in her work. Lee’s 1960s work was made from recycled canvas and industrial materials such as conveyor belts, as well as many found objects that referenced the early avant-garde and Dada.

The signature trademark of Lee Bontecou and her art are the abstract wall works that are unlike anything else the modern and contemporary scene have ever seen

Wire sculpture artist falls under no arts privacy of use terms whatsoever
Lee Bontecou – Untitled, 1961 – Image via bp.com

The Retreat Into Privacy

Starting with the year of 1971, Lee began teaching at the Brooklyn College on a regular basis – she worked here until the year of 1991. Bontecou moved to Orbisonia, Pennsylvania full-time in 1988 where she continues to work to this day. She maintained a vigorous studio practice, but showed infrequently and obviously decided to take a step back from her public activities. She was brought back to the public attention during the 2003 retrospective co-organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. This show eventually traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2004[3]. Lee Bontecou retrospective included both work from her public, art-world career and an extensive display of work done after retreating from the public view.

Besides her abstract wall sculptures, Lee Bontecou also creates mystical drawings that explore natural and man-made forms within arts

New black steel art works on canvas were welded for the New York Art museum exhibition
Lee Bontecou – All Freedom in Every Sense – Image via moma.org

The Importance of Lee Bontecou and Her Art

Nowadays, Lee Bontecou and her work are rightfully treated as a valid milestone in art history. Not only are her abstract pieces as original and unique as any modern artwork can be, but their author is also widely recognized as one of the most important female artists of the 1960s. Lee is also held in high regard due to her connections with feminism, although her work always did aim to be a part of a much more challenging creative topic – exploring the very materiality as a conceptual gesture within art. By choosing to challenge this kind of concept, Lee wound up with a practice that is broadly accepted as one of the greatest artistic tensions between the industrial and the organic the world has ever seen.

Lee Bontecou lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island, The United States.


  1. White, M., Banach, J., Ashton, D., Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds (Menil Collection), The Menil Collection, 2014
  2. Schimmel, P., Bontecou, L., Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, Skira Rizzoli; New First Edition, 2012
  3. Bontecou, L., Smith, E. A. T., Smith, A. P., Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, 2003

Featured image: Lee Bontecou – Two untitled sculptures in the Los Angeles Mega-Gallery – Image via hyperallergic.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016It's Not Your NatureMichael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2016Revolution In The Making: Abstract Sculpture By WomenHauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles, CA Group
2016Architecture of LifeBerkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film ArchiveGroup
2015Surrealism: The Conjured LifeMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, IL Group
2015America Is Hard to SeeWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY Group
2014Lee Bontecou: Drawn WorldsPrinceton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ Solo
2014Lee Bontecou: Drawn WorldsThe Menil Collection, Houston, TX Solo
2014Outer spaceDer Weltraum zwischen Kunst und Wissenschaft, Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn Group
2014Solitary SoulMichael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2013Lee Bontecou: Works on PaperHubertus Exhibitions, Zurich Solo
2013Ambach & Rice PresentsDaniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Group
2013Autour De L’Abstraction III Au Même Moment, Ailleurs…Musée d´art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal, QC Group
2013Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, IL Group
2013The Artist and the PoetThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Group
2012Mortal Reflections (2012-13)IKON Ltd, Santa Monica, CA Group
2012Tracing the Century: Drawing as a Catalyst for ChangeTate Liverpool, Liverpool Group
2012Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962MOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA Group
2012The New York Collection for StockholmGeorgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA Group
2012...on PaperMichael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2012The Expanding GridHood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH Group
2012DrawnMargo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Group
2011Lee Bontecou. InsightsZentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe Solo
2011T.a.i.t.e. Die Wahrheit Über Die Kolonien 1Galerie Conradi, Hamburg Group
2011Selections From The Hammer Contemporary CollectionUCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA Group
2011Neue KünstlerinnenräumeK21 Ständehaus, Dusseldorf Group
2011Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the CollectionThe Menil Collection, Houston, TX Group
2011Adding to the Mix 1: John Wesley’s Boeing (1982)University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC Group
2011Drawings for the New CenturyThe Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN Group
2011Artists CollectInternational Print Center New York, New York City, NY Group
2011Abstract Expressionism: Reloading the CanonMichael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2011Master Drawings in New YorkBarbara Mathes Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2010Lee Bontecou: All Freedom in Every SenseMuseum of Modern Art, New York City, NY Solo
2010Galaxy & CosmosJason McCoy Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2010Form in Translation: Sculptors Making Prints and DrawingsSaint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO Group
2010Wall to WallDaniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Group
2010Collecting BiennialsWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NYGroup
2006Lee Bontecou: Fifth Stone Sixth StoneMemorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY Solo
2004A Retrospective: Lee BontecouMuseum of Modern Art, New York City, NY Solo
2003Lee Bontecou: A RetrospectiveUCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1999Lee Bontecou 1958-1972Leo Castelli Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1995Lee Bontecou: Reliëfs 1959-60Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht Solo
1993Lee Bontecou: Sculpture And Drawings Of The 1960SParrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY Solo
1993Focus Series: Lee Bontecou: Sculpture And Drawings Of The 1960sMOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1972Lee BontecouMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, IL Solo
1971Lee BontecouLeo Castelli Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1968Lee Bontecou: Haus am WaldseeDer Ort internationaler Gegenwartskunst in Berlin, Berlin Solo
1968Lee BontecouMuseum Morsbroich, Leverkusen Solo
1966Lee BontecouLeo Castelli Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1962Lee BontecouLeo Castelli Gallery, New York City, NY Solo
1960Lee BontecouLeo Castelli Gallery, New York City, NY Solo